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Page last updated at 15:07 GMT, Wednesday, 24 November 2010

Ashes: England captain Andrew Strauss calls for focus

First Ashes Test, Brisbane
Dates: 25-29 November Start time: 0000 GMT Coverage: Listen live to Test Match Special on BBC 5 live sports extra, Radio 4 LW and online (UK only). Watch live on Sky Sports 1, highlights on ITV 4

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Strauss & Ponting go head-to-head

England captain Andrew Strauss says it is "naive at best and dangerous at worst" to start thinking about a first series win in Australia in 24 years.

The 33-year-old's attention is only on the first day of the first Test at the Brisbane Cricket Ground on Thursday.

"I'm not looking at that finishing post at the moment. I'm looking at tomorrow, and starting the series well," he said.

The last England skipper to win at the ground was Mike Gatting, whose 1986 win contributed to a 2-1 series success.

That seven-wicket victory has been followed by five successive Australian wins in Ashes series down under.

TOM FORDYCE'S BLOG

But Strauss does not want his team to get distracted by the possibility of breaking the trend.

"Past history suggests not many people do that, so it's a great challenge for me and for the team," he said.

"But to think of the finishing line now is naive at best and dangerous at worst, because there is so much cricket between now and then.

"If you want to win this Ashes series, you need to earn the right to do it over and over again.

"We're all just very keen to get amongst it now."

The tourists have no injury concerns, while Aussie batsman Michael Clarke has been passed fit to play.

The vice-captain missed training on Monday with an ongoing back injury but did take part in net sessions on Tuesday and Wednesday.

Australia captain Ricky Ponting confirmed: "Michael Clarke has got through his work particularly well the last couple of days and had a long, solid bat in the nets again [on Wednesday].

Ashes: England's best chance to win - Jones

Australia have also chosen right-arm pace seamer Peter Siddle over left-armer Doug Bollinger, who has been struggling with a side injury.

Another of Ponting's attack, Mitchell Johnson, has stated his intention to target Strauss with shorter deliveries.

The opener is unperturbed by the prospect of head-high bouncers however.

"I've had to deal with a lot of short balls in the past, and I'm quite happy with my technique against it," he stated.

"If Mitchell wants to let us know their bowling plans a day early, that's very kind of him."

Strauss' team have been in fine form, winning two of their three warm-up games and are in buoyant mood.

"It's been a big build-up and obviously very exciting, the prospect of representing your country in an Ashes series - and we're standing here on the edge of it," stated Strauss.

"I think we have got a good opportunity, there's no doubt about it. We've started the tour well; we're in a good place as a side.

"But at the same time we recognise this is a tough assignment - not many sides come out here and win."

He's very excited and looking forward to the challenge over the next five days. He's a pretty level-headed bloke and knows his strengths and weaknesses

Ricky Ponting on Xavier Doherty

Gatting has backed the Middlesex man to become the first England skipper to replicate his success.

"He probably should be remembered as one of the greatest captains of all time if he wins the urn down there," he said.

"Not many people have done it before him. He has a very good side, has a great coach behind him and is a fine leader of men and I think we'll win it 2-1."

Prime Minister David Cameron has added his support with a message of good luck from Downing Street.

England's frontline bowlers have been acclimatising to Brisbane's tropical conditions for the past seven days having sat out the emphatic 10-wicket win over Australia A in Hobart last week.

And the rest of the squad visited the Gabba for the first time on Tuesday afternoon, a venue where Australia have not been defeated in a Test match since a nine-wicket loss to the West Indies in 1988.

Since their victory in 1986, England have lost four out of five Test matches at Brisbane, with a solitary draw coming in 1998.

Ponting under huge pressure - Butcher

On England's last visit to the Gabba, Steve Harmison bowled one of the most famous wides in cricket history with the very first ball of the 2006/07 series, setting the tone for a triumphant 5-0 whitewash for the hosts.

The loss came 16 months after England had regained the Ashes at the Oval, a feat they repeated in 2009.

Ponting said his team is once again motivated by a desire for vengeance.

"That's a really big part of how we're playing this series," he stated. "We took in our own disappointment and made sure it hurt them as much as possible. That's what has been driving me.

"It's about that empty feeling that we've had at the Oval in two successive Ashes tours."

Meanwhile, former England batsman Mark Butcher said recollections of their nightmare tour four years ago should be a motivating factor for the team.

"I think the memories of the last tour will actually galvanise the team to be strong, stay together, be more focussed and fight harder this time round," he told BBC Sport.

The BBC Weather forecast for Brisbane suggested overhead conditions would be overcast in the Queensland capital on Thursday morning, with temperatures set to reach about 27 degrees.

Steve Harmison
Harmison opened the 2006/07 series with a wide in Brisbane

Uncharacteristic summer rainfall has given the Gabba pitch a green tinge, an encouraging sign for England's triumvirate of fast bowlers hoping to swing the Kookaburra ball from the start.

Overcast and humid conditions are ideal for swing, a factor which could tempt Strauss to go against conventional wisdom and bowl first should he win the toss, emulating Nasser Hussain's decision during the 2002/03 series.

Former captain Hussain was made to regret his decision as Matthew Hayden and Ponting hit commanding centuries in a thumping 384-run victory.

However, seamer Stuart Broad believes Strauss will not take a similar gamble should he win the decisive toss.

"To be honest there's been a lot of hype about the wicket and conditions and I think it has been purely press talk," said the Nottinghamshire man.

"Looking at the wicket today it seems a good Test match pitch, maybe not as hard as people were expecting.

"It certainly doesn't have the look that it will seam all over the place. I'd say it's a good deck to bat on. But whatever we do at the toss is all about doing that skill better than the Australians."

A consistent performance in Brisbane could see England spinner Graeme Swann oust Dale Steyn as the world's number one Test bowler, becoming the first Englishman to hold the accolade since Harmison in 2004.

The 31-year-old off-spinner is only six points behind South Africa's Steyn at the top of the standings with 864, while team-mate James Anderson is fifth on the list.

JONATHAN AGNEW COLUMN

Australia will hand spinner Xavier Doherty his Test debut after dropping Nathan Hauritz from their 13-man squad, while bowler Peter Siddle will start instead of Bollinger.

Batsman Mike Hussey has been under pressure following a run of 11 months without a Test century, but the left-hander struck a timely hundred for Western Australia against Victoria last week.

The inclusion of Doherty, who turned 28 on Monday, has raised eyebrows, particularly following the suggestion that the left-armer has been specifically brought in to target Kevin Pietersen.

England's most charismatic batsman has struggled with left-arm spinners during his career, dismissed on 38 occasions in all international cricket to that form of attack.

The new Surrey signing lost his wicket to an innocuous delivery in Hobart from Australia A slow left-armer Steve O'Keefe.

Doherty's first-class record is less than impressive; in 35 matches for Tasmania he has taken 84 wickets at a cost of 48.26 per dismissal, but Ponting is confident his man can deliver.

"He's been particularly good. He's bowled a lot the last few days," he said.

"He's very excited and looking forward to the challenge over next five days. He's a pretty level-headed bloke and knows his strengths and weaknesses.

"He'll stick to those through the five days, and I'm sure he'll do well. It's exciting for all of us, and exciting for me to have a cap presentation. That's a great part of my job."


Australia: RT Ponting (captain), SM Katich, SR Watson, MJ Clarke, MEK Hussey, MJ North, BJ Haddin (wkt), MG Johnson, XJ Doherty, PM Siddle, BW Hilfenhaus.

England (probable): AJ Strauss (captain), AN Cook, IJL Trott, KP Pietersen, PD Collingwood, IR Bell, MJ Prior (wkt), SCJ Broad, GP Swann, ST Finn, JM Anderson.



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Clarke passed fit for Ashes Test
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Justin Langer column
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England will win Ashes - Flintoff
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Jonathan Agnew column
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England in Australia 2010-11
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Watch BBC Sport's Ashes trail
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Live cricket on the BBC
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